Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin & Elvis all revered Joe South : Games People Play

‘A need to hear and tell stories is essential to human beings, second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter,’ (Reynolds Price, Novelist of the American South)

‘In the South people talk in rhyme and clap on the offbeat’ (Robbie Robertson)

Growing up in the American South in the post World War Two era a boy with attentive ears and a curious mind would have had access to a rich, loamy diet of inspirational songs and stories. Tall tales, fables and folk tales at the kitchen table and the store. Gossip and rumour outside church and school.

The heavy air all around you was suffused with Hymns and Murder ballads, work songs, cheating songs, songs of exile and songs longing for home. Tuning the radio dial in Georgia you could hear scarifying Black Gospel, parlour songs, train songs, bluegrass breakdowns, bottleneck blues, honky tonk drinking songs, waltzes, polkas and whatever was top of the pop charts.

If you were musically inclined you could start practicing with the guitar your daddy gave at 11 and while still a teenager, if you had the will and the talent, you might find yourself co- writing a hit song with a rock n roll legend and go on to be a master session guitarist, Grammy winning songwriter and singer with a string of classic songs to your name and work with everyone from Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin and Simon and Garfunkel. You might even have Elvis himself record and perform one of your songs.

You might grow up to be Joe South.

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And, if you were Joe South you would write and record in 1969, ‘Games People Play’ one of the most enduringly satisfying and effective songs of the 1960s.

Now that’s a song! An unstoppable hit from the majestic sitar intro and La – Da da da da da da vocalising even before the brilliant straight from the shoulder lyric skewers the phoniness and pretensions of the movers and shakers of the 60s generation (not to mention every generation before and since!).

There is a characteristic magnificent sinewy strength to Joe’s baritone vocal and his guitar/sitar playing. In Games People Play he has turned a great song through superb performance and production into a great record. ‘Games’ features a wonderfully integrated vocal, organ, strings and brass arrangement which swells the sound to anthemic proportions.

Joe South always sang like a man who knew what he was talking about and who wasn’t afraid to tell uncomfortable truths about himself and the world around him.

‘Talking about you and me and the games people play ….’

‘Oh we make one another cry, Break a heart then we say goodbye .. ‘

‘People walking up to you, Singing glory hallelujah, And they try to sock it to you in the name of the Lord…’

‘They’re gonna teach you how to meditate, Read your horoscope, cheat your fate… ‘

‘Look around tell me what you see, God grant me the serenity to remember who I am …’

‘Turned your back on humanity and you don’t give a da, da, da da , da …… ‘

It seems to me that, ‘Games People Play’ is as accurate a summary of life in 2016 as it was in 1969 and as it will be in 2069. Cue it up again!

Joe South was an Atlanta Georgia native. Once he discovered the guitar he became an obsessive practicing round the clock and even setting up his own mini radio station to broadcast his playing.

Through DJ Bill Lowery he got involved with Atlanta’s NRC Record Label and formed musical bonds with Jerry Reed, Pete Drake, Ray Stevens and Billy Joe Royal. In 1958 he co-wrote the novelty hit, ‘The Purple People Eater meets Witch Doctor’ with the larger than life Big Bopper of, ‘Chantilly Lace’ fame (who was to die in the plane crash that took Buddy Holly)

His prowess as a guitarist won him work in Atlanta, Nashville and Muscle Shoals. In 1962 he played the Buddy Holly style guitar on Tommy Roe’s Billboard Number One, ‘Sheila’.

In the same era he had his first mainstream hit with the charming, ‘Untie Me’ by the black vocal group The Tams – a favourite on the Myrtle Beach summer sand scene.

Joe South grew up in a strictly segregated South. But like Tony Joe White, Steve Cropper, Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton his musical taste was never segregated and the influence of Gospel, R&B and Soul music as well as Country is palpable in every note he sang and played.

Joe’s versatility is clear when you consider that in 1965 he was called in by Simon and Garfunkel’s producer Tom Wilson to add electric guitar punch to the ‘Sounds of Silence’ Album in the same year that he was writing and producing a country soul classic for his long time friend Billy Joe Royal with, ‘Down In The Boondocks’ a tale of the travails of love attempting to cross the tracks from the picket fenced lawns to tar papered shack poor side of town.

Apparently Joe had asked Billy to record Boondocks as a demo hoping to pitch it to Gene Pitney. However, the distinctive echoey sound and Billy’s urgent performance was recognised by a savvy someone at CBS and lo! A top 10 hit resulted.

Billy would go on to record several other Joe South songs including the lilting ballad, ‘I Knew You When’ and the irresistible, ‘Hush’ perhaps better known from the hit Deep Purple version.

In late November 1965 and through to March ’66 Joe became involved in the epochal sessions for Bob Dylan’s landmark masterpiece album, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ playing both guitar and bass. He plays bass on the sublime, Visions of Johanna’ which must be one of the defining Himalayan triumphs of Dylan’s career and of the whole rock era.

Joe was as comfortable recording with members of The Band and Nashville luminaries on Blonde on Blonde as he would later be when he played with signature brilliance along with Muscle Shoals finest on Aretha Franklin’s 1967 smash hit, ‘Chain of Fools’

That’s Joe with the E string tuned to a low C providing the spooky, something serious is gonna go down here, intro that sets things up for the majestic Aretha to slay us all. Throughout the song Joe meshes perfectly with Jimmy Johnson, Tommy Cogbill, Spooner Oldham and Roger Hawkins as they keep everything between simmer and boil following Aretha.

When it came to his own recording career Joe would never have as big a hit as, ‘Games’ but he would write and record biting songs that continue to hit home with their humanity, their moral force and their musical power.

My particular favourite is the you just can’t deny it’s true, ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’ which became a high point of Elvis Presley’s 1970 stage shows (and there isn’t a songwriter in the world who wouldn’t have whooped at top volume when learning that Elvis had done one of their songs!).

Do look up the King’s version but I have to feature Joe’s testifying version here today. What fantastic guitar too!

 

We all know, as surefire sinners, that we should keep the stone in our pocket rather than casting it at our neighbour for their sins. Or as Joe puts it with pithy force:

‘Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes,
Hey before you abuse, criticise and accuse,
Walk a mile in my shoes’

There’s something very cheering about the way Joe South songs come at you so directly presenting a clear eyed, dare to say this isn’t so, critique of our personal and communal hypocrisies and failings .

And, in a way that never has the whiff of pious cant about them. Rather, these are songs filled with life and hard won wisdom which you just have to sing along to. It’s a rare gift to write songs filled with righteous anger that aren’t deadening rants that win allegiance only from those with closed minds and hard hearts.

In October 1970 a song that Joe had originally given to Billy Joe Royal and recorded himself in a lovely ruminative version became a world wide hit for Lynn Anderson.

‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’ is the kind of country record that sells to people who say they can’t stand country music.

The kind of pop song that is bought, listened to and remembered by eight year olds and eighty year olds. The kind of record that wins nodding heads of agreement from all us, bruised in Love, when it says, ‘You know what I’m talking about’. So smile for a while and let’s be jolly … Come along and share the good times while we can. While we can.

Joe South’s life and career took a marked turn for the worse in 1971 with the death by suicide of his beloved brother Tommy. That and the pressure he felt trying to match the success of, ‘Games People Play’ seems to have sent him into a spiralling depression (fuelled in part by drugs) which meant that his enormous gifts were in abeyance for many years.

Though he did make later albums which have their moments he was largely content, once he had ceased as he put it, ‘Kicking myself about’ to live a quiet life in his Georgia home. He died there in September 2012 having left a deep and indelible mark on the music of his era.

I’m going to leave you with an elegy he may have unknowingly written for himself. ‘Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home’ must surely have been played by the angels, singing him home to his final rest, as Joe rode in that last limousine. Hank Williams will surely want to swop Whippoorwill references.

Joe South’s songs were built to last and last they surely will.

Barbara Lewis: The queen of sultry early 60s R&B – Baby I’m Yours!

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1963 was a vintage year for chart topping R&B singles.

Motown’s imperious domination of the chart was evidenced by Mary Wells’ lovely, ‘Two Lovers’ written by the great Smokey Robinson who hit the summit himself accompanied by The Miracles with the hypnotic, ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ which the admiring Beatles covered on their second album.

An absurdly precocious and energetic, ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ electrified everyone who heard him with, ‘Fingertips (Part 2) while Martha & The Vandellas filled dance floors all over the globe and sent thermometers soaring with the epochal, ‘Heatwave’.

The singular genius of Curtis Mayfield was represented by The Impressions prayerful, ‘It’s Alright’ and the nonpareil vocals of Sam Cooke took the witty, ‘Another Saturday Night’ to the chart summit.

Ruby & The Romantics and The Chiffons kept the Girl Group flag flying with the unforgettable, ‘Our Day Will Come’ and, ‘He’s So Fine’. Jackie Wilson worked us all up into a glorious sweat with, ‘Baby Work Out’ as Garnett Mimms with The Enchanters left us all elated and exhausted with the classic deep soul anguish of, ‘Cry Baby’.

I could (and probably will) write about all the wonderful songs above. But, the R&B chart topper from 1963 that won and retains first place in my heart is, ‘Hello Stranger’ – a sultry, slinky, uptown soul masterpiece written and performed with subtle flair by Barbara Lewis, a teenager from Salem, Michigan.

Now, don’t you feel blessed and enchanted!

Barbara recorded, ‘Hello Stranger’ at the famed Chess Studio in Chicago in January 1963. She had earlier been talent spotted by Ollie McLaughlin a music business mover and shaker who managed to combine being a DJ with Ann Arbour’s WHRV with managing Del Shannon and producing records. Olllie insightfully recognised that it was rare to find a poised young woman who could write and sing in such a distinctive fashion.

A sympathetic team of seasoned professionals supported Barbara on this classic recording. John Young coaxed a warm embracing sound from the Hammond Organ. Riley Hampton skilfully arranged Barbara’s romantic melody to ensure listeners and dancers would be spellbound throughout every second of its duration.

Filling out the sound with characteristic excellence were one of the greatest and most durable of all vocal groups – The Dells. The Rhythm Section maintained a swooning tempo underneath Barbara’s astounding mature – you won’t be able to resist falling desperately in love with me right now vocal.

Listen to the effortless precision of her diction and the way she seems to almost hugging the song to herself. Singing it like a thrilled lover devoutly recalling the intoxicating pleasures of young love. I think the word Luscious can be properly invoked here!

The sharp eared Atlantic Records team knew a hit when they heard one and issued, ‘Hello Stranger’ as Atlantic 2184 which became a No 3 pop hit as well as an R&B No 1. To which signal achievements we can now add the accolade of a hallowed place as:

A 14 on The Immortal Jukebox!

Over the next six years at Atlantic Barbara issues a further 16 singles every one of which showcased some aspect of her gloriously distinctive artistic persona. Through the Atlantic connection she also got to collaborate with some of the finest record industry talents of the era such as Bert Berns, Jerry Wexler, Carol King and Gerry Goffin and Van McCoy.

While I could hymn every one of the Atlantic singles I have chosen three to feature on The Jukebox to persuade you (if any is needed after hearing, ‘Hello Stranger’) of how essential her recordings are for anyone seeking the very best of the frequently neglected gems of the early sixties.

Let’s turn first to a record that will have even the flintiest hearted curmudgeon swaying misty-eyed in a romantic reverie. From 1965 the Van McCoy penned classic, ‘Baby I’m Yours’.

‘Baby’ was recorded in New York and benefited from the pooled talents of Bert Berns, Van McCoy(something of a secret hero of 60s pop), the backing vocals of The Sweet Inspirations featuring Cissie Houston and a well schooled string section.

The silky come hither charm of Barbara’s vocal here has rarely been matched and will surely be so until the stars fall from the sky and the poets run out of rhyme. In other words until the end of time.

Next a change of tempo with a song much beloved by my veteran friends of the, ‘Northern Soul’ scene. I can just imagine the delighted reaction of those tireless fanatical dancers as the first strains of Sharon McMahon’s, ‘Someday Were Gonna Love Again’ rang out at the Wigan Casino or Manchester’s, ‘Twisted Wheel’ club.

While I would have tried in my lumbering way to respond to the call of the beat I would undoubtedly have been lost in admirations as Barbara and the driving musicians behind the record inspired the serious dancers to ever greater heights of virtuosity as they glided and pirouetted across the dance floor.

Nights spent dancing to such music are stored forever as treasure in the soul.

I’m going to conclude with another example of Barbara’s ability to cradle a song in her imagination before slaying us all with the irresistible slow burning power of her recorded vocal.

The way she sings, ‘Come on, come on, make me your baby’ here could make even a dead man rise like Lazarus!

I can’t imagine there’s ever been a man alive who wouldn’t feel ten foot taller if Barbara sang, ‘Make Me Your Baby’ to him. I know it works for me!

Barbara Lewis essentially retired from the music business after a last hurrah with Stax records as the sixties concluded (look for the marvellous side ‘The Stars’).

But, in her 60s heyday she recorded a series of records, highly potent quiet storms, that will resonate forever in the hearts of those lucky enough to have heard them.

I find Barbara Lewis’ records to be endlessly alluring and captivating. I have remained in thrall to their spell since my teenage years.

So, here’s a tip – if I’m ever forty floors up, stranded on the ledge and threatening to jump, its Barbara’s voice that I want talking me down!

Note:

I whole heartedly recommend, ‘The Complete Atlantic Singles’ on Real Gone Music and the more selective, ‘Hello Stranger’ on Rhino Records.

Sugar Bee: A Saturday Night Cajun Drunkard’s Dream (Cleveland Crochet)

‘Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about my money, don’t try to save
My Heart says go, go! Have a time … ‘.

(Little Richard – ‘Rip It Up’ Bumps Blackwell/John Marascalso)

‘Saturday morning, oh Saturday morning All my tiredness has gone away
Got my money and my honey And I’m out on the town to play
Sunday morning, my head is bad
But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had’.

(Fats Domino – ‘Blue Monday’ Dave Bartholomew/Fats Domino)

‘When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go?
Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, Little Bessie, girl that I once knew ..’

(The Band – ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ Robbie Robertson)

As dawn broke one morning during Christmas holidays I found myself suddenly, startlingly awake with the refrain:

‘Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee,
Sugar bee – look what you done to me’

looping over and over in my head.

While there is nothing approaching the orderly majesty of the Dewey Decimal system about my filing system for songs and song lyrics I am pleased to report that before the refrain had looped ten times a light bulb in my mind had illuminated the name, ‘Cleveland Crochet & Hillbilly Ramblers’ and presented me with a picture of a neon yellow Goldband Records 45 that was securely stored in my collection of essential Cajun singles.

Fifteen minutes later the record was spinning on my old portable deck and the whole house, guests and all, was dancing at a Surrey Woods Fais do-do! (Cajun dance party).

Now it’s only fair that you should have the opportunity to cut a rug and set this classic looping in your head too (and once it’s in your head I have to tell you it’s there for life!) So without further ado:

Sugar Bee was, in 1961, the first slice of pure Cajun music to break into the Billboard top 100. So the whole nation had the chance to catch up with the Saturday night delights that the Lake Charles patrons of The Shamrock and Moulin Rouge had been dancing and carousing to for over a decade.

It’s hot and humid in Lake Charles and when you’ve spent all week breaking your back working construction or in the oil fields you sure as hell need to go out to spend your money on Saturday night somewhere you’re guaranteed to have a whirling fine, fine time drinking and dancing, drinking and dancing – with a side order of flirting and fighting until itstime to fall down or be carried home.

And if that’s what you’re looking for a Cajun dance hall with a Cajun band like Cleveland Crochet and The Hillbilly Ramblers can’t be beat!

Cleveland’s up there on the Bandstand setting that fiddle on fire while Shorty Leblanc is cutting through the layers of smoke and befuddlement with his wake the dead accordion licks.

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Keeping that dancing rhythm always alive is Charlie Babineaux on guitar and gliding over the top on the Steel guitar and laying down the vocals we have Jesse ‘Jay’ Stutes. Allons -y!

Sometimes the songs are sung in Cajun French sometimes in Cajun English – either way the message of loves won and lost and of a proud people celebrating their uncelebrated culture comes through loud and clear.

As Sugar Bee plays you can practically feel the hardwood floor bouncing up and down as the couples foot stompingly circle the dance hall.

This is gloriously rough and rowdy music with the kick of over proof corn liquor. And, the more you have the more you want – don’t worry about Sunday’s hangover it’s going to be more than worth it for the times that you’ve had! Ah! Lets get it man.

Cleveland was a 1919 born native of Hathaway, Louisiana who found, like so many, that Lake Charles offered regular work and all the luridly promised temptations of the city in full measure.

He had formed the Ramblers by 1950 and began recording for Folk-Star and Leader for the local Cajun market. Hooking up with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in 1960, amplifying their sound and singing in English led to their great breakout hit (of course the record business being a cut-throat Business meant that Cleveland wasn’t exactly able to retire on the proceeds of his hit!).

But, he had made an immortal record that would go on to become a Cajun anthem and there are riches in Heaven for that.

And, I hear you ask – is the B side any good?

Damn right it is! ‘Drunkard’s Dream’ is for that time of the night when you and your dance partner are really in step and in tune (and likely more than three floors drunk!).

Now, you’re floating over the floor and the lights are gleaming like jewels and you don’t know or care what time it is and what time, if ever, you will get home. All you really know is that you wish this dance would never end. And the words of the song waltz and waltz around your mind ;

‘J’ai arrive hier au soir (z)a La maison
J’ai cogne, j’ai crie, j’ai pas de reponse
J’ai connu, (z)au moment que t’etais pas la
Quel espoir, quel avenir mais moi j’peux avoir?’

Monday morning, Blue Monday, will, as it always maddeningly does, come around and you will have to sweat and strain through another week of loveless labour. Yet, just at the limit of your vision is always the promise of another Saturday night when the Sugar Bee will fly again and all the drunkard’s can dance and dream to their hearts content.

Notes:

The hard to find Cleveland Crochet compilation on Goldband is well worth the search. Individual Hillbilly Rambler tracks are scattered across many fine Cajun collections.

I recommend versions of Sugar Bee by Canned Heat, Wayne Toups, Jimmy C Newman (live on the excellent Marty Stuart TV show), Jo-El Sonnier, Dr Feelgood and The Interns and Gene Taylor.’

Ry Cooder, Elton John, Solomon Burke & Jim Reeves: ‘He’ll Have To Go’

Christmas Cracker 6

Oceans and oceans of emotion have flowed through the telephone wires buzzing above your head. Think of all the announcements.

I’ve passed my exams!

I’ll be home for Christmas!

We are going to get married!

It’s a Girl!

We did all we could but I’m sorry to tell you that …..

There was a time, centuries and centuries, when announcements like that came by letter or were delivered face to face. The invention of the telephone allowed direct personal communication at great distance bringing the disembodied voice right into your ear and mind.

And, humans being human the telephone has been used for every virtuous and nefarious purpose imaginable.

Right now someone is planning to call you with the aim of draining your bank account.

Right now someone is patiently listening to a tortured soul who thinks life isn’t worth living anymore and assuring them that there is at least one person who will answer when they call again.

Right now some poor sap is reeling as he learns that the party’s over; that love can lie, that the love still burning so bright for him is naught but cold, cold ashes for her. And, you know what? He still won’t believe it!

Slumped on his bar stool with the jukebox blaring he tries to clear the fog in his head to summon up all his persuasive powers for one last, ‘Don’t Go!’ plea.

Surely, if he can only find the right words, he can reignite those hot flames and they will be together again:

‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’

Ah, Jim Reeves, Gentleman Jim, the Prince, the peerless Potentate of three in the morning melancholia! I’ve spent many a night drinking deep with that velvet voice.

Many a night his oracular tones have echoed and reechoed in my mind and heart as I battled to accept the unacceptable, searching to find reasons, answers, and eventually a way out.

Mostly Jim taught me that there was no easy way out – some things can’t be worked round. No, they have to be got through, endured.

And if you need a companion on your exhausting, perilous progress back to sanity and some vestige of normality you won’t find one better than Jim Reeves.

You wont be surprised at Jim’s popularity in the Americas and in Europe. But, you might be a little taken aback to learn of his immense popularity in Jamaica and that in India and Sri Lanka he is enormously admired and revered by many as a, ‘Gandharva’ an earth born singer in tune with the heavens.

Jim’s, ‘I’m speaking directly to you, just you, in all your pain’ confiding vocals cut through barriers of race and culture.

No one is immune from Jim crooning, ‘Should I hang up or will you tell him he’ll have to go’ or, ‘Do you want me answer yes or no’.

And, tell me you don’t how the terrible cost of choking out the words, ‘Darling I will understand’.

Jim took Jim and Audrey Allison’s song which had done nothing in its first recording by Billy Brown and gave it a magic that endures. A magic that has won millions of listeners (14 weeks a country No 1 in 1960) and inspired hundreds of singers to seek out that magic too.

Jim Reeves life was cut short by a plane crash in 1964 but there can be doubt that as long as hearts get broken and people seek solace in music that Jim’s voice will live on.

Any Jukebox that I’ve got anything to do with will always have a copy of Jim Reeves ‘He’ll Have To Go’ ready to play for the lost and the lonely when they need it.

So, as sole proprietor of The Immortal Jukebox I’m announcing that, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ has been awarded the position of A13 on The Immortal Jukebox.

As its the season of goodwill and a time for generosity I’m donning my Santa Claus suit and bringing you several other versions of the song for you to digest with your drink of choice.

First up a rapturous, let’s turn the lights down and sway together in the cantina live version by Jukebox favourite, Ry Cooder, accompanied by Flaco Jimenez, the king of Conjunto, Norteno and Tejana accordion.

I think you’ll want a premium Tequila here.

‘He’ll Have To Go’ is always thought of a Country Pop song. However as the regal Solomon Burke definitively demonstrates below it works every bit as well as Country Soul.

Solomon has power in reserve as he cruises through his version suggesting depths of emotion by subtle shifts in tempo, accent and volume.

Solomon never lets you down.

I think a fine Tennessee sippin’ Whiskey will do the job here.

To conclude a version by one of the great rock/pop stars of the modern era, Elton John. At heart Elton has always been a huge music fan – someone who genuinely loves songs and singers.

As he says here he started out as the unregarded boy in the corner of the pub playing the piano. Since then, of course, he’s written more than a few songs himself that we all know by heart.

That’s how you become a huge star selling tens of millions of records. In addition he has been a relentlessly hard working performer and you can hear the fruits of all those hours on stage in this solo performance from 1992.

You’ll have to uncork the Champagne for this one.

Finally perhaps we should all close our eyes and sing our own a cappella version – remembering the time we all wished we could have said:

‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’

This post dedicated to George who’ll be listening in his rural retreat – no doubt with a fine bottle at hand.

Notes:

I listened to a lot of versions of, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ preparing this post. A lot.

One I would definitely have included if Youtube would have cooperated was that by Glasgow’s great son, Frankie Miller (please look it up).

Frankie’s version is deeply heartfelt. In his 70s and 80s pomp Frankie could out write and out sing almost any singer you can think of.

Peers like Rod Stewart and Alan Toussaint recognised his special qulaities. Principally his ability to wring every blood drop of emotion from a song while carrying his audience with him through his beautiful rhythmic assurance.

If you do one thing this holiday season seek out Frankie Miller’s CD, ‘Highlife’ and then work your way through his catalogue. You won’t regret it.

I recommend a peaty single malt from Islay as your accompaniment.

Other versions I think you might profitably seek out include those from: Bryan Ferry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Rivers, UB 40, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Billy Joe Royal, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Cash, Harry Dean Stanton, Jackie Edwards, Elvis Costello and Tom Jones.

Rock and Roll Will Stand! Jonathan Richman & The Showmen tell you why!

Some folks never liked Rock and Roll.

It was too loud, too pagan, too young, too black, too sexy, too shameless, too crude, just too, too, too!

But, if you got it – you got it! It was the sound; of an ice age thawing, of continental plates shifting, of blood singing in the veins, of a door being thrown open so wide that nothing could ever close it.

It was the sound of today and the sound of a million better tomorrows. It was the sound you had been waiting for all your life. It was the sound of destiny.

And it was heard loud and clear in Detroit and Delhi, in Louisville and Liverpool, in Hibbing and Harrow, in Memphis and Manchester, in Newcastle and New Orleans, in Sydney and Singapore, in Paris and Paros, in Zeebrugge and Zurich.

It was heard loud and clear in Norfolk Virginia where Norman ‘General Johnson’, Milton, ‘Smokes’ Bates, Dorsey ‘Chops’ Knight, Gene ‘Cheater’ Knight and Leslie ‘Fat Boy’ Felton formed a group which came to be known as The Showmen.

In 1961 in New Orleans under the tutelage of the great Alan Toussaint (RIP) they cut a record for Minit Records which with sashaying charm really says it all (and you can dance close, really, really close to your true love while you’re listening)

‘ It will be here for ever, Ain’t gonna fade, Never no never … Rock and Roll forever will stand’.

It Will Stand was a top 100 hit in 1961 and 1964 and a radio and Jukebox hit always and everywhere. It’s irresistible good humour is bound to lift every heart and bring a smile to every face.

Who can stand against heartbeats and drum beats, finger popping and stomping feet, saxes blowin’ sharp as lightnin’, voices lifted in harmonious joy and celebration?

Some artists have a ragged but right, rough and ready, rock and roll heart. Think Keith Richard, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Westerberg and Ray Davies.

Think Jonathan Richman who has always had the keys to the secret heart of Rock and Roll.

Jonathan knows in his very bones that Rock and Roll will stand. And I’ m here to tell you he’s 100% right.

Rock and Roll will stand.

Rock and roll will stand because of Chuck Berry’s cruising Cadillac way with words.

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Rock and roll will stand because of Jerry Lee Lewis’ backwoods testifying and hotter than hellfire piano.

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Rock and roll will stand because of the you can feel it in the pit of your stomach and centre of your soul Bo Diddley beat.

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Rock and roll will stand because of the tenderly tough crooning of Gene Vincent.

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Rock and Roll will stand because you can still hear the sonic boom that followed the entry of the quasar – Little Richard, into our universe.

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Rock and roll will stand because Elvis Aron Presley’s stance and singing tilted the axis of the earth.

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Rock and roll will stand because Don and Phil Everly sang sweeter than any nightingale choir.

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Rock and Roll will stand because Dion and The Belmonts sang Homeric tales of street corner life.

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Rock and Roll will stand because Antoine Fats Domino made everyone’s day brighter every time he sat down at the piano to sing!
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Rock and Roll will stand because that mist you see high above in the dawn sky is the vapour trail of The Moonglows, The Orioles, The Penguins and The Five Satins.

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Rock and roll will stand because Lowman Pauling, Duane Eddy, Link Wray and Lonnie Mack made their strings rumble and flash like thunder and lightning.

Rock and Roll will stand because of Buddy Holly’s heartening and heartbreaking songs.

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Rock and Roll will stand because Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr laid down a beat that can never die.

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Rock and roll will stand because Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, Greenwich, and Barry. Pomus and Shuman and Bumps Blackwell told us the story of our lives and made us dance and fall in love at the same time.

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Rock and Roll will stand because The Shangri Las, led by the great dramatic actress Mary Weiss, found grand opera in the lives of teenage girls.

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Rock and roll will stand because John Lennon and Paul McCartney sagged off school and learned to write songs that made you feel that to be alive was a very fine thing indeed.

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Rock and roll will stand because one of the great American pathfinders Bob Dylan refused to recognise the bounds of the maps he inherited while brilliantly and brazenly opening up a whole new territory for song.

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Rock and roll will stand because Jimi Hendrix unleashed a cosmic orchestra of sound from the electric guitar.

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Rock and Roll will stand because true artists like Patti Smith keep reinventing it!

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Rock and roll will stand because Brian Wilson, a chubby kid from Hawthorn California, heard a celestial blend of voices and instruments in his head and had the genius to make that blend come alive in pop symphonies.

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Rock and Roll will stand because even though Amy Winehouse drew a losing hand in love and life she left a lasting legacy of songs that will always wring our hearts.

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Rock and Roll will never die because though Pete Townsend grows old, ‘My Generation’ never will.

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Rock and Roll will stand because Lucinda Williams knows what a sweet old world we live in and can make us cry as we realise that.

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Rock and Roll will never die because that’s what you listen to, full blast with the top down, as you leave a town full of losers – pulling out to win.

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Rock and roll will stand because somewhere right now a teenage singer is thrusting out his hip, leaning into the mike and counting the band in:

.. ‘1, 2, 3, 4!’

Rock and roll will stand because somewhere right now a teenage guitarist is windmilling his arm and about to hit that magic, magic note.

Rock and Roll will stand because somewhere right now in a back bedroom while her parents are asleep a teenage songwriter has found a way to express the inexpressible thrill of falling in love.

Rock and Roll will stand because in a basement across the tracks a band are vamping for all their worth as they chant in unison,

‘And her name is G L O R I A!’.

Rock and Roll will stand because you KNOW exactly what; Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding, Awop Bop a Loo Bop a Lop Bam Boom and Great Googly Moo really, really, mean.

Rock and Roll will stand.

This is Christmas Cracker 4 and the 100th post on The Immortal Jukebox – an opportunity for me to thank everyone who has read, commented and shared these missives from my own Rock and Roll heart. I hope you will stick with me for the next 100!

John Lennon & Rosie and The Originals – Angel Baby

‘[Angel Baby] … This is by a 15 year old girl from National City California named Rosie. This is going to be a hit Guys and Gals’ – DJ Alan Freed on K-Day Radio, November 1960.

‘This here is one of my all time favourite songs. Send my love to Rosie – wherever she may be’ (John Lennon)

Christmas Cracker 3

1960 was a momentous year. In Greensboro, North Carolina four black students are refused service at a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s. They begin a sit in protest that is repeated throughout Southern States that summer as Civil Rights protests become a powerful political, social and cultural movement.

High over the vast territory of the Soviet Union a U2 spy plane piloted by Gary Powers is shot down triggering a rapid rise in the temperature of the Cold War.

In November John Fitzgerald Kennedy becomes the 35th President of The United States seeming to symbolise a new era of optimism – Camelot on the Potomac.

Meanwhile in a former aircraft hanger in San Marcos California, on 2 track machine, a 15 year old Mexican-American girl called Rosalie (Rosie) Hamlin lays down a song she had written a year earlier to celebrate her first love.

A song that John Lennon then an unreconstructed leather clad Rock ‘n’ Roller with a scarifying, scabrous, Scouse wit will remember, with love, to the end of his days.

That song, ‘Angel Baby’ features an ethereal vocal by Rosie that will never be forgotten by anyone who hears it. It’s the sound of a true, innocent heart filled, full to bursting, with delirious youthful passion.

It’s the sound of the children of Neverland wheeling in the heavens as they fly straight on to another rosy morning.

And, if in your venerable age and wisdom you shake your head at such simple feeling I’m here to tell you that you are too old brother, too old sister.

Every time I hear, ‘Angel Baby’ I’m teleported back to my 14 year old self when there were as many possibilities of love and longing for love as there were stars in the night sky.

Sing it Rosie, sing it for the 14 year still living somewhere inside us all.

I love the Sputnik guitar intro to Angel Baby. I love the sense that there is no artifice at all here – nothing getting in the way of a distillation of a pure oceanic feeling.

It doesn’t matter a hoot that the bass player, Tony Gomez, had to play an untutored plodding sax solo because the regular saxman Al Barrett had to stay home because his mother wouldn’t let him out until he’d mowed the lawn (!)

What matters is that Rosie with David Ponci, Noah Tafolla and Carl Von Goodat made a record that hummed and crackled with the music of the spheres.

At first Rosie couldn’t get anyone in the music business to be interested in her record. Then she had the bright idea of getting Kresge’s department store in San Diego to play the record in their listening booths (remember listening booths?) and lo and behold the kids of San Diego found that they knew exactly, exactly, what Rosie was singing about.

They began clamouring to buy Angel Baby so that they could call up it’s magic anytime they wanted. In the event, ‘Angel Baby’ was issued by Highland Records in November 1960 and went on to hit the top 5 in the Billboard charts.

In a tale too tawdry for the telling Rosie was denied composer credit and royalties for decades. She went on to record an early 60s LP for Brunswick Records before slipping out of the limelight into family life with only brief, subsequent forays into the nostalgia circuit.

Yet, every time she steps up to a microphone or is heard on the radio crooning, ‘Its just like heaven being here with you, You’re like an angel, too good to be true’ she conjures up a miracle.

In late 1973 John Lennon was in a bad way. It seemed everything was broken. He sought oblivion in drug and alcohol fuelled binges that became the stuff of legend. Groping towards a way out he decided to record an album of songs from his youth, songs that had been favourites of his before the fame and the madness took over.

Songs from the days when John Lennon was above all else a man who loved songs and singers. A man who longed to write, perform and record songs of his own which could be set alongside the original mother lode of Rock ‘n’ Roll classics.

It’s no surprise that the album features songs by Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richardand Fats Domino – these were the songs the Hamburg Beatles had played and played untilthey were second nature.

Yet, Lennon the leather throated rocker always had a softer aspect reflected in his love for the stoic, broken hearted ballads of Arthur Alexander.

And, in his, ‘lost weekend’ amid the too many musicians, too many producers and engineers chaos of the, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ sessions he reached back for an artless song that expressed something beyond the ability of words to fully express.

He reached back for the sound of:’Ooh, ooh, I love you, oh ooh I do, No one could love you like I do, Oooh, ooh, Oooh, Oooh, ooh, ooh , ooh, ooh, ooh …………. ‘

He reached back for, ‘Angel Baby’. And he sang it with all his heart.

 

 

Thanks to Rosie for the lightning strike that set a match to many a heart.

This post written on December 8 2015 – the 35th Anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Thanks to John for the meteor shower of genius that lit up the entire world. Roll on John, Roll on John, Roll on John. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam

Denny Laine (Moody Blues) & Bessie Banks – ‘Go Now!’

Almost all of us have faced that moment. That moment. The moment when you finally realise that it really is over. That no longer are you one of two. That the gilded future you were walking so confidently into is now a bomb strewn wasteland.

And, it’s all you can do not to break down right there. Not to scream and scream again – Why! Why! Who! Who! Oh you’d better get ready for; the blind denial, the lacerating anger, the shameless, shameful pleading, the empty bottle of Gin, cant lift your head above the pillow depression and, eventually, eventually, the bruised, well, ‘that’s that then’ weary acceptance.

Of course, there’s a song for every one of these stations of the romantic cross. No Jukebox would be complete without a slew of drive you to tears, (sitting in the bar you’ve already been driven to drink!) rip your heart apart ballads. I’ll leave it to you to count how many stations/stages you are returned to listening here today.

As Christmas Cracker 2 The Jukebox is featuring a superlative break up song from 1964, ‘Go Now’ in stellar versions by Bessie Banks and The Moody Blues, the latter featuring one of the most under appreciated singers of the era, Denny Laine. [Day 2 from last year’s Christmas Cornucopia featuring Eartha Kitt’s seriously sexy ‘Santa Baby’ and a deliriously enjoyable cajun version of, ‘Silent Night’ can be found here http://wp.me/p4pE0N-50%5D

First up Bessie Banks tremendous original as issued by Leiber&Stoller’s Tiger/Blue Cat labels. The song was written (with Milton Bennett) by Bessie’s then husband, Larry Banks, a Brooklyn born veteran of the Rhythm and Blues vocal group scene (checkout his classic with the Four Fellows, ‘Soldier Boy’ from 1955).

I love the bruised dignity with which Bessie sings, ‘Go Now’ especially her defiant, let’s face the facts, A cappella introduction to the song. I love Gary Sherman’s beautifully measured arrangement which incorporates gospel piano, mournful horns and emotion swelling backup vocals led by the always excellent Cissy Houston.

I love the way the record and Bessie’s vocal grows and grows in emotional power without ever collapsing into hysteria. ‘Go Now’ is all the more effective as a heart-breaker becauseof its heroic restraint and illustration of how shattering it is to know that you are still in love even as you have to say Go Now!’

Only when your lover has closed the door can you let those tears you’ve been holding back flow and flow and flow.Bessie’s version of, ‘Go Now’ was released in January 1964 and was a top 40 hit on the R&B charts. However, it became a much more substantial hit through the cover by The Moody Blues which was issued in November that same year.

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The Moody’s take on the song hit the Number One spot in the UK while making the Top Ten in America. In the early 60s a constant flow of great American records came across the Atlantic in the cases of keen eared collectors before being pounced upon by groups seeking songs they really sink their musical teeth into.

It was Denny Laine, at that time the lead guitarist and main singer with The Moody Blues who knew immediately on hearing, ‘Go Now’ that it would suit his glorious plaintive vocal style and that the band: Clint Warwick (bass), Mike Pinder (piano), Ray Thomas (Woodwinds/percussion) and Graham Edge (drums) could come up with a distinctive arrangement which would prove an irresistible pop hit.

 

This is a much more assertive, damn and blast your eyes, version of the song benefitting from the spooky unintentionally distorted piano (of course in the history of popular music many a great record is born of unintended distortions!) and a very English layered vocal chorale sound.

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Most of all this version wins you through the magnificence of Denny Laine’s lead vocal which brilliantly evokes the bewilderment, outrage and exhaustion of the spurned lover. Denny barely seems to take a breath as his vocal flows magisterially through the song sweeping us away until we are left beached and emotionally wrung out as the last notes fade away.

I hope you all spend Christmas fast in the love of your loved ones and that you do not find yourself forced to summon up ‘Go Now’ to describe your situation ever again.

Notes:

Larry Banks – in addition to his work with The Four Fellows became beloved of Deep Soul aficionados through his work as writer and producer with The Cavaliers, The Geminis, TheExciters and with his second wife Jaibi (Joan Bates).

You can explore his work through Ace Records’ ‘Larry Banks’ Family Soul Allbum’

The Moody Blues – I highly recommend their debut, ‘The Magnificent Moodies’ when they were still an R&B beat group evolving into a kaleidoscopic pop outfit. Throughout the album Denny Laine’s vocals are breathtaking. One listen to his soaring coda to, ‘From The Bottom Of My Heart’ should make you a sworn devotee!

Denny Laine – after leaving The Moody’s and before joining Paul McCartney’s Wings Denny recorded a series of singles with his own, ‘Electric String Band’ featuring string players from the Royal Academy Music School.

I have great affection for their second single, ‘Catherine’s Wheel/Too Much In Love’ but their debut single, ‘Say You Don’t Mind/Ask The People’ is to my mind one of the great,’lost classics’ of the 1960s.

Some may know, ‘Say …’ through the early 70s hit version by Colin Blunstone. But, trust me, do yourself a favour and seek out the wondrous original featuring yet another great Denny Laine vocal.

Mac Gayden – Everlasting Love, Crazy Mama : The Glory of The Nashville Cat

While you’re getting on with your everyday life the world keeps on turning. Day becomes night and Spring ripens into Summer before Autumn leaves fall heralding the coming of Winter.

And, though it once seemed so very far away ChristmasTide is upon us once again! Last year The Jukebox celebrated with the very well received,
‘Christmas Cornucopia’ series which featured a gallery of great artists singing Christmas songs.

The Cornucopia will return next year. Those of you of a nostalgic bent (and everyone gets a free pass to indulge in nostalgia at Christmas) and those who have become Jukebox readers this year are warmly invited to catch up with the first Cornucopia post here http://wp.me/p4pE0N-4U

This year, as my own form of indulgence, The Jukebox is going to present a series of artists and records which hold a special place in my affections – often for reasons I can’t fully explain (which is the way with many of our deepest affections).

Many of these have been fixtures in my music treasury for decades and have been the subject of lengthy encomiums delivered with beery exuberance on licensed premises often starting with the phrase, ‘What do you mean you’ve never heard of ….’

Given the season that’s in it I have called this series, ‘Christmas Crackers’. So let’s get cracking with a record from 1975, Mac Gayden’s hugely uplifting, ‘Morning Glory’ a song that always puts a mile wide smile on my face every time I hear it.

Now tell me that ain’t better than a medicine for healing!

This is guitar playing that soars with devotional grace like the lark. Guitar playing that glides and glides, stilling time as it opens up azure realms of weightless joy. John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful (whom god preserve) wrote a hymn to the skills of Nashville’s musicians called ‘Nashville Cats’ which perfectly captures the brilliance of Mac Gayden’s guitar playing here:

‘Nashville cats play clean as country water, Nashville cats play wild as mountain dew’.

I first listened to Morning Glory on the radio in my student room in Cambridge. I vividly remember my deeply knowledgeable muso friend Neil (who improbably managed to combine a deep appreciation of Albert Camus with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fabulous reggae records emanating from Jamaica’s Studio 1) nearly breaking his neck as he vaulted down the stairs from his room in the floor above me to breathlessly ask, ‘Who the hell is that guitar player!’.

Mac Gayden, I airily replied based on thirty seconds or so of superior knowledge! From that moment on I made it my business to find out all there was to know about Mac Gayden.

Turns out he really was a born and bred Nashville cat and that as well as being a stunning slide guitar virtuoso he had played with the great and good all the way from Bob Dylan to Elvis.

Mac was also a fine producer and a terrific songwriter with a gem studded catalogue of songs. And, one of those songs, ‘Everlasting Love’ was one of those songs that got up andwalked by itself into immortality.

A song that was a hit in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s and 1990s and which is still beingsuccessfully covered in the 21st Century! Everybody knows Everlasting Love, though I doubt one in ten thousand could name Mac Gayden as its author (strictly speaking co-author with Buzz Cason). A song that’s built up a very healthy pension for Mac Gayden.

There are versions worth investigating by U2, Carl Carlton, Gloria Estefan, Rachel Sweet, Love Affair and Jamie Cullum. But, as is my default setting, it’s the beautifully restrained and dignified glowing original from 1967 by Robert Knight that features here on The Jukebox today.

The genesis of the song goes back to Mac picking out a lullaby melody on his grandmother’s piano when he was only 5 years old! The same warm melody that’s carried by the horns and organ on Robert Knight’s version above.

The more immediate inspiration for Everlasting Love was the rumbustious live music scene of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. The fraternity houses provided lots of work for Music City’s up and coming musicians.

The legend goes that one night as Mac took a break from his set at Phi Delta he was entrancedby the sound of a true rhythm and blues/soul voice carried on the night air from Kappa Sigma.

Investigation established that this was the voice of a Franklin Tennessee native, Robert Knight, who had an early 60s hit as a member of The Paramounts with, ‘Free Me’. After some hesitation Robert was persuaded that Mac was a Nashville Cat who was every it as much at home with R&B and soul music as he was with Country music.

The result of their collaboration was a record that might be termed country soul – a record that is immediately memorable and singable with a chorus that all of us think we must join in with arms aloft enthusiasm. The rest as they say is history.

Mac Gayden’s superb slide skills and his understanding of when to unleash those skills and when to lay back supporting others made him a handsome living as a studio musician.

In addition in the early 1970s he was part of two high class Nashville based musical ensembles, Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry which allowed fellow studio greats like Wayne Moss, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Kenny Buttrey to stretch out, maintain the groove and show off their chops for longer than a radio friendly single demanded.

I am going to close this tribute to Mac Gayden with his sublime Wah-Wah slide playing with the laid back and leathery supreme master of sun going down back porch groove, J J Cale. There may be a track that’s more lazily hypnotic and addictive than, ‘Crazy Mama’ but if there is I haven’t found it for four decades and more!

Mac Gayden belongs in the secret hero category of musician. I hope that today’s Christmas Cracker feature has done something to let the secret out. Spread the word!

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Notes

Mac Gayden – In addition to Everlasting Love Mac Gayden also wrote the Northern Soul classic, ‘Love On a Mountain Top’ for Robert Knight. The Box Tops, Clifford Curry and Geno Washington all took full advantage of his soulful strut of a song, ‘She Shot A Hole In My Soul’.

Morning Glory can be found UK Ace Records excellent combination of two 1970s albums, ‘Skyboat’ and, ”Hymn To The Seeker’

I also recommend, ‘Southern Delight’ by Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615’s eponymous debut LP and the, ‘Trip To The Country’ follow up.

Robert Knight – His tender tones can be explored further on a compilation inevitably named Everlasting Love on the BGO label.

Buzz Cason – As well as co-writing Everlasting Love Buzz worked with Leon Russell, The Crickets and Snuff Garrett. He sang backup for Elvis and Kenny Rogers. He ran a very successful recording studio and wrote a fascinating memoir, ‘Living the Rock’N Roll Dream’.

Yet, despite all these accomplishments his greatest moment for me is as the writer of, ‘Soldier of Love’ for the peerless Arthur Alexander.

A song picked up, played and greedily memorised by a couple of young men from Liverpool, Paul McCartney and John Lennon who would go on to write more than a a few classic songs themselves!

The Marvelettes – Please Mr Postman … Youth in all its passions!

In my role as Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of The Immortal Jukebox Think Tank and Market Research Corporation I oversee a series of rigorous research projects into Pop Culture. The results are later published in weighty academic journals.

On the other hand I usually find that I can get a better handle on public taste and knowledge by conducting informal polls at the Immortal Jukebox’s local hostelry, ‘The Midnight Bell’. My latest poll question thrown out as, ‘Baby Love’ by The Supremes blasted out of The Bell’s Jukebox was, ‘Which Motown act was the first to have a Number 1 Pop record?’

Immediately I was confidently assured that it was, of course, The Supremes only to have that notion brushed aside by others who said it must have been Smokey Robinson & The Miracles if it wasn’t (LIttle) Stevie Wonder. A hesitant voice from the back said what about Mary Wells with, ‘My Guy?

All intelligent speculations but the act that brought Tamla Motown to the coveted Number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1961 was none of the above. It was in fact a group now largely relegated to the footnotes of Motown histories – Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Inkster’s Immortals, The Marvelettes!

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And the song that launched Motown into mainstream America? The song that would be a staple of The Beatles live act at The Cavern and which they would record for their second LP?

The song that would ascend to the top of the charts again in 1975 courtesy of The Carpenters and feature in a brilliant fight scene in the Scorsese film, ‘Mean Streets’? Well, as you will have guessed by now, it was, ‘Please Mr Postman’ – a song which just explodes with youthful hormonal energy!

Now that really was the sound of Young America just as the New Frontier was coming into being. The Marvelettes led by Gladys Horton’s gloriously husky come-hither lead vocal wrap us up in the quivering excitement of the ecstasies, angsts and agonies of young love.

Wanda Young, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart and Katherine Anderson gather agog around Gladys. Driven along by the peerless James Jamerson on bass and Benny Benjamin on the drums the girls, girls next door, thrillingly evoke the heart in mouth feeling of waiting for the long awaited love letter to arrive; desperate to know what secrets the letter will reveal.

A letter that surely must confirm that the dream of love is indeed a reality and banish those nightmares that the promises of love so sweetly given were a hollow sham.

Until you open that letter you are in Limbo – once read you can share its joys or sorrows with your girlfriends. So Please, Please! Mr Postman! Deliver the letter! The Sooner the better!

Postman as a song was a virtual collage reflecting the input of original Marvelette Georgia Dobbins and local songwriter William Garrett before it was, ‘polished’ at Motown in house writers Brian Holland, Robert Bateman and Freddie Gorman.

For once so many cooks didn’t spoil the broth. Instead the Motown machine preserved the innocent allure of the song while adding the pop propulsion that would allow Motown to plant their first flag on the very summit of the pop charts.

The Marvelettes would never have the sexy sheen of The Supremes, the vocal grace of Gladys Knight & The Pips or the drive of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas but I am always won over by the open hearted longing that animates so much of their work.

So much pop music centres on the desire for monochrome everyday life to suddenly burst into new dimensions of thrilling colour. And, for me the relative lack of glamour and poise of The Marvelettes, their very ordinariness, makes their records all the more touching.

Listen to them here with their wonderfully charming hit from 1962, ‘Beechwood 4-5789’

Beechwood was written by the triumvirate of Marvin Gaye, ‘Mickey’ Stevenson and George Gordy and its Marvin playing the drums who kicks off the record in such fine style. Once again, Gladys Horton’s lead vocal takes us for a ride on the dizzying carousel of youthful love and infatuation.

This is a pure pop record with lovely spanish guitar trills flashing alongside the vocal lines. Guys sometimes believe its they who make the running in relationships but wiser heads have always known that it’s the girls who are in charge. The hunter, knowingly or not, usually does get captured by the game.

Motown had some of the qualities of a manufacturing company like Detroit’s own Ford Motors with an assembly line and strict quality control. It also had something of the quality of a royal court with Berry Gordy as the unchallenged monarch whose favour was the supreme currency which could be gifted or withdrawn according to commercial calculation and personal whim.

The Marvelettes, despite their early triumph with Postman were soon supplanted in Berry’s affections by The Supremes who offered more vocal versatility, more glamour and the mysterious star power of Diana Ross.

So the Marvelettes became, ‘We will find something for them later’ side projects for Motown’s A team of songwriters and producers.

However, given the brilliance of those A teams The Marvelettes still got access to some very fine material including Holland/Dozier/Holland’s, ‘Locking Up My Heart’, the Norman Whitfield produced, ‘Too Many Fish In The Sea’ and Smokey Robinson’s, ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician’.

It was the songwriting and production genius of Smokey Robinson that in 1966 provided The Marvelettes with their second million selling 45, ‘Don’t Mess with Bill’.

The lead vocal here comes from Wanda Young and she takes full advantage with a mature performance that matches the beautifully wrought production featuring judicious use of handclaps, vibes and organ with the immaculate Funk Brothers rhythm section binding everything together.

This is a record that suggests the smoke wreathed nightclub rather that the high school hop of their earlier releases.

By the end of the 1960s The Marvelettes had broken up – falling prey successive bouts of disillusion and illness. Yet, the products of the lovely yearning of their youth and the hard won craft of their later work will always have a special place in my heart. I hope the Jukebox showcase will win them a place in your affections too.

Biographical Notes:

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Gladys Horton who died in January 2011 was the moving force behind the formation of The Marvelettes at Inkster High School in the late 1950s. Few singers have ever incarnated the whirling passions of youth with as much faithfulness as Gladys.

Wanda Young – listen out for her lead vocals on, ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’ and, ‘When You’re Young And In Love’. Wanda was married for some time to the late Bobby Rogers of The Miracles. I believe she still lives in the suburbs of Detroit.

Katherine Anderson was the only ever present in The Marvelettes as they moved through the arc of their career in the 1960s. Following the breakup of the group she has become very involved in social work in Detroit.

Georgeanna Tillman sadly died at only 35 in 1980. She had been afflicted with Sickle Cell Anemia and Lupus. Her illness was so severe that she had to leave the group in early 1965 though she remained working at Motown until the company moved from Detroit in the early 1970s.

Steve Winwood – Teenage Titan! … Keep on Running, Gimme Some Lovin’

‘ I think a lot of people came into rock ‘n’ roll to try to change the world. I came into rock ‘n’ roll to make music’ (Steve Winwood)

‘ Spencer Davis Group: Of all the bands I saw in those days, they impressed me the most. They had this small public address system and were very unassuming on stage, and then this spotty kid on the organ (Steve Winwood) suddenly opens his mouth and screamed, ‘I LOVE THE WAY SHE WALKS …’ and launched into a John Lee Hooker number. My mouth fell open and I felt a chill down my spine!’ (Noddy Holder lead singer of Slade)

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Sometimes the Muses are very generous, even profligate, with their gifts. Sometimes they decide not to bestow slow maturing potential but instead choose to invest the golden one with overflowing talent in the rosy days of youth.

Think of Boris Becker fearlessly winning the greatest title in Tennis, Wimbledon, at 17. Read Mary Shelley’s, ‘Frankenstein’ and marvel that it was written by a teenager or wonder how Rimbaud could, comet-like, appear as a fully fledged poetic genius with, ‘Le Bateau Ivre’ aged only 16!

Today’s The Immortal Jukebox features one of the great figures in popular music, Steve Winwood, a musician, songwriter and singer of prodigious accomplishment who, when yet a boy in Birmingham, as a member of The Spencer Davis Group announced to the world in a series of thrilling recordings that a teenaged white youth, only recently an angelic Church of England chorister, could, astonishingly; play, sing, shout and scream Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Soul music with the power and authority of a veteran from Memphis or Chicago.

Listen to Steve Winwood here, at 17, raising the roof and the hairs on the back of the neck with his vocal and driving keyboards as along with brother Muff on bass, Spencer Davis on guitar and Pete York on drums, he takes Jamaican Jackie Edwards lovely summer splashed, sashaying, ‘Keep On Running’ and turbo charges it to suit the throbbing clubs and the mean industrial streets of his native Birmingham.

No surprise that this fantastically vibrant rave up, released in November 1965 became a Number 1 record on the British charts.

If I was directing a documentary about the club scene in mid 60s Britain I would insist on having Steve Winwood’s exuberantly brilliant vocals blasting out at maximum volume as the camera lovingly took in the boiling energy and the wonderful, ‘you’re not going out dressed like that!’ fashions sported by the young men and women having the time of their lives grooving on the dance floor.

Very few records shout, ‘Its the 1960s and a brave, beautiful new world!’ as clearly as those made by The Spencer Davis Group in their 65/67 heyday.

Steve Winwood was fortunate that his brother, christened Mervyn but nicknamed Muff, was five years his senior. It meant that as a musically omnivorous youngster he got to hear Fats Domino, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Charles Mingus courtesy of tape recordings made from Radio Luxembourg and Voice of America ( the same ones Van Morrison was listening to over the Irish Sea in Belfast!).

Muff, no mean musician himself, realising that his baby brother had really extraordinary talent, particularly as a piano player, called up the 11 year old Steve (wearing long trousers too big for him) when he joined a trad jazz band.

At first sight of the skinny kid fellow musos laughed but their laughter turned to wonder as soon as they realised the younger Winwood’s prowess as a player and his astonishing facility to hear a number once and be instantly able to play it with complete confidence and conviction.

As he became a teenager Steve’s pure choir boy soprano voice inevitably broke and miraculously metamorphosed into a glorious husky tenor ideally suited to emulation of the singer he had just discovered and whom he would idolise – the High Priest himself, Ray Charles.

Steve and Muff formed The Muff Woody Jazz band which with with the addition of Spencer Davis became The Rhythm and Blues Quartette with a residency at the Golden Eagle pub in Birmingham by 1963.

They played with fiery intensity a mélange of blues, and jazzy R&B that soon won a fanatical following around their Midlands stomping grounds.

A key development in late ‘ 63 was Steve’s enraptured discovery of the endless musical landscapes that could be opened up by the Hammond B3 organ. It was the sight and sound of the impossibly youthful Steve imperiously playing the B3 before launching into, ‘Ray Charles on helium’ vocals that persuaded Chris Blackwell, the musically and commercially alert founder of Island Records that this was a band who could take his fledgling music mogul career beyond its beginnings in the Jamaican community into the cash rich world of the mainstream record buying public.

And so, the Spencer Davis Group launched what would turn out to be a highly successful career.

The success of, ‘Keep On Running’ proved the point! And, a March 1966 second number 1 again written by Jackie Edwards – the slow burning, rolling on a river, ‘Somebody Help Me’ showed it was no fluke.

But Steve was more than a superb interpreter of other writers material he was also a natural composer with a marked ability to invest a song with rhythmic drive and attractive melodies.

In mid 1966 Steve, collaborating with Muff and Spencer Davis as they jammed, at one of their Marquee club rehearsals, around a riff from Homer Banks’ ‘Whole Lott Lovin’, came up with a delirious vocal and organ part to drive one of the most exciting records ever made, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’. You want to start a party? Play this loud and watch the sparks fly!

This was the record that first properly let America know that there was a new kid on the block with talent to burn – a top 10 hit as was the follow up, the relentless whippin’ up a storm, ‘I’m a Man’

Steve Winwood by the time, ‘I’m a Man’ came out in January 1967 was already restless and keen to explore the more expansive musical territory he had glimpsed through his encounters with the musicians he would go onto found Traffic with. With Traffic and in his later, still happily current, solo career he would show over and over again that he had taken proper care of his plentiful natural talent to produce songs and records that positively glow with musical grace. But, that’s a story for another day.

Today, I’m celebrating the dazzling achievements of the teenage Steve with The Spencer Davis Group. This was the time when Steve astonished all who heard him with a soul filled voice that had power, tenderness and flexibility to spare. A voice which commanded and held your attention as he took songs and lit them up – projecting them deep into your heart.

At the same time his piano and organ playing showcased a deep instinctive musicality that could by turns be stately, impassioned, riotously rowdy or even drowsily melancholic according to the demands of the song being played.

I’ll leave you with Steve, at 18, 18! channeling Ray Charles with a breathtaking cover of, ‘Georgia On My Mind’.

It shouldn’t have been possible for one so young to hold himself up against one of the very greatest figures in modern music but incredibly Steve succeeds and puts himself in the company of the musical elect.

Somehow, through some mysterious alchemy and inner fire he was able to have an incarnate grasp of the essence of music so that no challenge was seemingly beyond him.

Notes:

My recommended Spencer Davis Group compilation is ‘the 2 disc ‘Eight Gigs A Week – the Steve Winwood Years’ on Universal/Island which will provide endless delights for anyone taken with Steve’s awesome talents.

Jackie Edwards:

Jackie who died in 1992 was a very fine singer and songwriter whose work was both languorously sexy, humorous and effortlessly charming. One listen to a classic from the early 1960s like, ‘Tell Me Darling’ should have you seeking out one of one of his hits collections.